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1968 Essay, Research Paper

One of the most important years in our nation’s history is 1968. It had a huge impact on everyone from the most common citizens to the President of the United States and everyone in between. A lot of things happened in this year that changed the course of history. Two crucial people were assassinated in 1968, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. We were also in the middle of struggling in the Vietnam War. There were massive riots that broke out over whether to even be fighting at all. Disturbances also seemed to break out across the country in the fight for equality and civil rights. So this was a very confusing year for us, it divided our nation in half and made people start movements to look for liberation. There were many questions over what the future would hold for our country.

The first major thing that brought up a lot of conflicts was the Vietnam War. This war is the largest in American history. However, virtually no one was in support of this war since there was generally no threat against the United States. But on we fought, and along with it came the conflicts. One of the most critical battles of 1968 was the Tet Offensive; it was the climax of the war. Viet Cong launched the attack five of South Vietnam’s cities. They also attacked district capitals, the Saigon airport, the presidential palace, the ARVN headquarters, and the US Embassy. It was an all out attack on the US. However, we responded quickly with the ARVN and took most of the property back. Hue was the only city that the Viet Cong had held, but that was retaken by the end of February. So in this short time, only one month, 100,000 Vietnamese lost their homes, thousands died, and their capital was left to ruins. It was considered a Viet Cong defeat in the US. But the government in Viet Cong considered it a psychological victory. Yet even though we had won, the US General asked Lyndon B. Johnson to send 200,000 more troops to complete the assault. This request was met with much opposition from the American people as well as questions regarding the strength of the American military. (”Tet Offensive”, 20th Century Timeline, p1 of 2)

Lyndon B. Johnson seemed to be the person to blame for all that was going on overseas. Before Tet, a majority of people favored the conflict. Afterwards a majority opposed the war and even Congress was questioning whether to send more troops. Did we really want to risk the lives of more troops and get involved in a struggle that doesn’t involve us that could last up to a decade? This didn’t sound like such a good plan. But what else was there to do? We were already involved now, and it was also evident that the President didn’t know what to do either. So, with his popularity at an all-time low by the end of March, Johnson made an announcement to the American people that he would not be running for re-election and he was going to halt the bombing in Vietnam. This was considered an activist victory. (Anderson, Terry H., p185-190)

Activists continually protested the war and started supporting the campaign of Senator Eugene McCarthy. McCarthy had been criticizing how LBJ was running the war since 1967, and in November he announced his bid for nomination as the Democratic candidate. At first people laughed, yet he gained the support of many liberals. Most Democrats still felt, however, that Robert F. Kennedy would make for a stronger leader. Kennedy was also not in support of the war, and soon he accepted the others’ call to run for the Presidency. This happened just at the time when people were starting to believe that McCarthy actually stood a chance. People had to now compare both Democrats. They saw McCarthy as an unanimated campaigner with boring and vague speeches. Kennedy was looked at to have more enthusiasm and it was said that he could generate more emotion. Now the question was, who could win more support? (Anderson, Terry H., p189)

Just as activists were beginning to think that they had overcome, with LBJ’s announcement and the two good candidates, they were hit with a new problem. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. A whole-hearted speaker for civil rights, King was very controversial. He opposed Johnson’s war and had been constantly receiving death threats, yet this time the threat became reality. His murder led to a massive amount of riots, mainly by blacks. About 21,000 people were arrested, 3,000 injured, and 46 dead by the end. His death did have an impact on the government however. Congress passed the Fair Housing Act shortly after, which attacked racial discrimination in the sale and rental of housing. This was a small step towards all of the causes that King had supported. (”Martin Luther King, Jr.”, 20th Century Timeline p2 of 3)

There was an uneasy atmosphere in the campaign for the Presidency after the murder of King. People were looking everywhere for someone who could put America on a straight path out of Vietnam and towards peace. Both parties felt their candidate could do this. So began the debate, as McCarthy and Kennedy went out to the states to face off in the primaries. Kennedy was the favorite in Indiana and Nebraska, but McCarthy came in with his first victory in Oregon. That summer, the people held a vote with close results-46 percent for Kennedy and 42 percent for McCarthy. Another delegate, Hubert Humphrey, also entered into the race for the Republicans. Kennedy felt that after he had won the vote of summer, even though by a small margin, he had no competition and he started to attack Humphrey for not attending the primaries. I guess his victory at the polls gave him a little boost of confidence. (Anderson, Terry H., p206)

All of a sudden a shock swept over the country. Kennedy was shot. Shot? Yes, only eight weeks after the assassination of King, we had lost another strong force of the American people. The person who was closest to becoming the next President was gone. Kennedy was seen as a last hope to many activists, and now even that had failed.

Now what? A possible future President and Civil Rights leader had been murdered. The draft was continuing to send troops to Vietnam. The only person left for consideration was McCarthy. Plus, during the summer, two more candidates running for the conservatives had also announced that they would be putting in their bids for nomination as President: George Wallace and Richard Nixon. A new political battle erupted. You had Humphrey and McCarthy for the Democrats, Wallace for the American Independent Party, and Nixon for the Republicans. While this was all going on, American and North Vietnamese negotiators were meeting in Paris to discuss peace, which seemed very far off still. (”The Nixon Years”, US History Timeline, p9-10 of 11)

Well, this seems like it should be a pretty peaceful time, right? Well, that’s how it seemed to be until the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Almost 10,000 activists filled the streets as the Convention got underway to confront Johnson’s party, his war, and civil rights. People held huge gatherings in Lincoln Park, but they weren’t able to stay there. Riots occurred and violent police confrontations for the length of the convention, and in the end eight arrests were made. These people became known as the Chicago Eight, which later became the Chicago Seven. Five were found guilty of contempt of the court but the convictions were later overturned. So, we have even more violence now and an election soon to come. What was going to be the outcome? (”Chicago Seven”, 20th Century Timeline, p1 of 2)

McCarthy’s campaign began to falter and people saw that our next President was to be Humphrey or Nixon. Nixon claimed he had a “secret plan” to end the war, yet he avoided most civil rights questions. Humphrey focused on the most popular subject, war, although he had no plan on how to end it with peace. In the election, Nixon won by a slim margin, only about half a million votes. The election didn’t solve many problems, however. Since Nixon didn’t have a direct solution, the war progressed. The nation was still divided over civil rights. People all over continued to protest. In fact, we were almost two separate nations. This is how 1968 ended. (Anderson, Terry H., p223)

So, what can we actually say about 1968? It was a year of a nation divided. We fought a war not only in Vietnam, but also in our own country. Important figures were assassinated. Riots over politics and civil rights broke out everywhere. This was definitely not a year of peace; it was a year of problems. And although many questions weren’t answered, I feel that 1968 was an important year for the United States. We learned a lot of hard lessons and I think we actually grew stronger from learning from our mistakes. So, as it was stated, 1968 was a turning point for the United States. It showed us a new sense of what equality was and a stronger movement towards

v “The American Experience.” Vietnam Online. 1997.(9 October 1999)

v Anderson, Terry H. The Movement and the Sixties: Protest in America from Greensboro to Wounded Knee. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995

v Berman, Larry. Lyndon Johnson’s War: The Road to Stalement in Vietnam. New York: Norton, 1989

v “Characteristics of the Vietnam War.” Vietnam: Yesterday and Today. (10 October 1999)

v “Chicago Seven.” 20th Century Timeline. (10 October 1999)

v Edmonds, Anthony O. The War in Vietnam. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1998

v Feldman, Greg D. “Chronology: The 1960s.” The US History Resources. 1998. (9 October 1999)

v “Tet Offensive, Martin Luther King, Jr..” 20th Century Timeline. 1991. (10 October 1999)

v “The War in America, The Tet Offensive, The Nixon Years.” Vietnam War Overview. (9 October 1999)


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